In the garden classes that I teach, I advise attendees that a great vegetable garden begins in the kitchen: You’ll best tend to foods you most want to cook and eat. I could say the same for a great composting set up. You’ll best tend a trouble-free kitchen-scrap collection system. A poor arrangement that becomes stinky, dirty or time-consuming will be neglected. Then your compost bin will go hungry, your garden soil will get lean, and your edibles won’t be competitive with weeds, resistant to diseases or as nutritious for your family.
Fortunately, a few rules of thumb will keep your compost pipeline to the garden flowing smoothly.
1. Avoid Plastic
Don’t use flimsy plastic containers because plastic has tiny pores that capture smells. Also, old yogurt containers or even store-bought plastic compost containers are simply unattractive.
Metal containers on the other hand have smooth surfaces that retard smells, and they don’t have to be expensive. I’ve used a stainless steel ice bucket and a white enameled pot with red trim, both with fitted lids to keep fruit flies at bay and purchased used for a buck or two.
After my wife and I added chickens to our homestead, we keep a separate metal container for food scraps the flock liked best: crushed eggshells, cucurbit and bell pepper seeds, scraps of greens, etc. Anything they won’t eat—citrus peels, paper towels, coffee grounds, etc.—goes into the enameled pot on their way to the compost bins.
2. Don’t Put Faith In Charcoal Filters
If you do have a store-bought plastic container, don’t put your faith in charcoal filters as a remedy for smells; they overpromise and underdeliver. Companies that sell compost containers with replaceable charcoal filters are like razor blade companies. The handle comes cheap because they make their big money on the replaceable blades. Truthfully, the charcoal filters don’t work that well, they don’t last that long and you can spend your money on better things. Two better solutions to curb the smell of kitchen scraps are to:
- Dump them regularly. Ours go out once or twice a week with no appreciable smells building up.
- Keep your container in the fridge or freezer if you want to go longer than that between trips to the compost.
3. Keep Your Containers Clean
Most times, our metal containers get clean with just a rinse in the sink. We keep things from sticking inside by putting a paper towel on the bottom. Even when wet, the paper towel and all the scraps separate easily with a tap on the compost bin.
4. Resist Using Biodegradable Bags
We tried using biodegradable bags in our scrap containers with subpar results. Yes, they do break down in the compost bin, but it takes about two years. Big remnants will end up in your garden, and they look like unsightly plastic bags. Plus, they didn’t really save us any time in cleaning out the containers. Anytime they needed more than a rinse, we dropped them into the dishwasher.
5. Site Your Compost Bin Close
Don’t put your compost bins at the farthest remove from your kitchen. In bad weather, your scraps will pile up and become a nuisance. Instead, find a place where you can reach it conveniently.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Hobby Farms.